1. This Shabbos comprises various aspects; in general, two: It is the Shabbos following Pesach, and it is Shabbos Mevarchim Iyar. The distinction of the former is that all thought, speech and deed of the preceding week is elevated to the level of delight on Shabbos. This indicates the great power and lofty nature of Shabbos — that a single day can elevate all six of the preceding days. And thus the Shabbos which elevates Pesach, the head of all festivals, must have a lofty status indeed.
The distinction of Shabbos Mevarchim Iyar is that Shabbos Mevarchim provides blessings for all the days of the coming month. Shabbos Mevarchim Iyar is particularly special for in Tanach, the month of Iyar is called “Ziv,” because “the brilliant ones (zivsonei) of the world were born in the brilliant ones” referring to the Patriarchs.
Since “deed is paramount,” we must derive a lesson from the above for man’s spiritual service in actual deed. We find many instances in the Gemara when, after discussion and analysis of different opinions, the Gemara asks, “What difference does it make?” — for everything in Torah affects actual deed. Indeed, the function of Torah is to bring light and illumination into a Jew’s life, and thereby into the whole world: Through Torah, G-dliness is introduced into the world. Similarly, the above noted aspects of this Shabbos
Iyar is the month which serves as the connecting link between the exodus from Egypt and Matan Torah (the Giving of the Torah). The preparatory service of Iyar is necessary to traverse the great distance between the exodus and Matan Torah.
At the exodus, the Jewish nation was born; and there is a vast gulf between birth and maturity, which took place at Matan Torah. Before the exodus, the Jews were in Egypt, the “abomination of the earth.” Suddenly, they had to reach the highest of levels — “You shall be for Me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation.”
Although the leap necessary to bridge such a vast gulf was possible through G-d’s strength without any preparation done by the Jews, nevertheless, since “A person desires one measure of his own to nine measures of his friend’s,” it was necessary that Jews engage in service to G-d to prepare for and be worthy of Matan Torah. Iyar, the month between the exodus and Matan Torah, was given to Jews to make the preparations to Matan Torah so that the lofty distinction of Matan Torah should become their own: A Jew would become a “partner with G-d” in Matan Torah. This means that Jews were partners not just by receiving the Torah, but also in the giving of the Torah, for a partnership does not mean that half belongs to one partner (giving of the Torah — belonging to G-d) and the other half to the other partner (receiving the Torah — to Jews) but rather, every part belongs equally to both partners.
This is what Sefiras HaOmer is all about. In the words of the Aggadah cited by the Ran: “When Moshe told them (the Jews), ‘You shall serve G-d on this mountain,’ Israel asked him, ‘When will this be?’ He told them, ‘At the end of fifty days.’ Each one of them then counted for himself [the days to Matan Torah]. From this the sages enacted Sefiras HaOmer: That is, in these times, when we do not bring an offering or the Omer, we count fifty days to the celebration of the Torah, just as Israel at that time counted.”
What the above passage tells us is that Israel, in the days between Pesach and Matan Torah, were in such a state of yearning to receive the Torah that they counted the days to Matan Torah. This was their preparatory service, through which they became partners with G-d in the giving and receiving of the Torah.
That the counting of the Omer constituted the Jews’ preparation to Matan Torah provides the solution to a puzzling aspect of the above Aggadah cited by the Ran. Moshe had told the Jews that they would be given the Torah at the end of fifty days. They then should have counted how many days were left until Matan Torah (49, 48, 47, etc.), and not how many days had passed since the exodus (1, 2, 3, etc.). However, since the counting was the preparation to Matan Torah, they counted how nouly days had passed since the exodus to see where they were up to in their preparation: one day of preparation passed, two days, etc., until they were fully prepared on the 49th day.
This is also why we begin to count the Omer on the second day of Pesach, the day after the exodus. The counting of the Omer, we have said, constitutes the Jews’ preparation to Matan Torah; whereas the exodus was wholly G-d’s doing, as written: “The Supreme King of kings, the Holy One blessed be He, revealed Himself to them and redeemed them.” Thus the service and preparation on the Jews’ part began only on the next day.
Now we can understand the unique nature of the month of Iyar. The service of Jews, “who count according to the moon (i.e., have a lunar calendar) and who are compared to the moon,” is divided according to the months of the year, each month possessing its own unique service. The special service of Iyar is Sefiras HaOmer, the preparatory service to Matan Torah allowing Jews to participate, and be partners with G-d, in Matan Torah.
Although Sefirah is also counted in the months of Nissan and Sivan, Iyar is special in that the mitzvah of Sefiras HaOmer is present every day of the month. In Nissan, the Omer is counted only in the second half of the month, and in Sivan, only on the first five days. In these months, there are other aspects unassociated with Sefiras HaOmer. In Iyar every day is associated with one theme: the mitzvah of Sefiras HaOmer.
Of course, before and after Iyar Jews also serve G-d — for a Jew’s function at all times is, in the words of our sages, “I was created to serve My Maker.” The difference between service in Iyar and that of other times is that the unique nature of the service of Iyar was the preparation to Matan Torah, whereas before and after Iyar, service is in other aspects.
In greater clarification: One may think that just as G-d is immutable, so service to G-d must also be immutable, the same throughout the year. However, although G-d is immutable, the revelation of G-d differs. For example, G-dliness was less revealed in the rest of the Bais HaMikdash than in the Holy of Holies, and less again in Eretz Yisrael, and again less outside Eretz Yisrael. Thus, there are differences in a Jew’s intensity of bonding with G-d, depending upon whether he is connected to the level of G-dliness of the Holy of Holies. or connected to lower levels.
We find this expressed in halachah, in the laws of prayer. Shulchan Aruch (Admur HaZakein, Orach Chayim 94:1) states: “If one is outside Eretz Yisrael, he should turn his face towards Eretz Yisrael ... and direct his thoughts also towards Yerushalayim and towards the Mikdash and towards the Holy of Holies. If one is in Eretz Yisrael, he should turn his face towards Yerushalayim ... and direct his thoughts also towards the Mikdash and towards the Holy of Holies. If one is in Yerushalayim, he should turn his face towards the Mikdash ... and direct his thoughts also towards the Holy of Holies. If one is standing behind the Mikdash ... he should turn his face to the east, towards the Holy of Holies.” Thus we see that in prayer, one must connect himself with the level of G-dliness in the Holy of Holies; and such that “he should turn his face,” “face” alluding to the necessity to bind one’s inner self and essence with the holiness revealed in the Holy of Holies.
The above differences in the revelation of holiness in a place exist also in time — the difference between weekday and holy days, between Shabbos and Yom-Tov (i.e., between holy and holy), and in Shabbos itself, the difference between a regular “Shabbos” and “Shabbos of Shabbosim.”
Different degrees in holiness also exist in mitzvos. Although the mitzvah of tzedakah is “equal to all the mitzvos,” there is no holiness attached to it. The tzedakah-money before it is given to the poor, when it is given to the poor, and after it is given — it not of itself holy. In the mitzvah of offering sacrifices, in contrast, we see that the sacrifice itself is holy.
Nowadays, when the Bais HaMikdash does not exist, there is a contrast between Torah and mitzvos, which are openly holy, and mundane things, which, although “all your deeds should be for the sake of heaven” and “In all your ways you shall know Him,” still remain “your deeds” and “your ways” — mundane, not holy.
So too in our case: There are differences between the types of service of different months. Tishrei, for example, is a month which is “replete with festivals”; and Iyar is the month of preparation for Matan Torah.
This lends understanding to the lofty nature of Shabbos Mevarchim Iyar. Shabbos Mevarchim blesses the coming month; and since the thing which gives a blessing must be on a level higher than the thing which is being blessed (for then it has the power to bless), it follows that Shabbos Mevarchim Iyar is loftier than the month of Iyar itself.
Since, as noted above, “a person desires one measure of his own to nine measures of his friend’s,” the service of Jews must also be present in Shabbos Mevarchim — meaning, that it is not something which comes only from Above. That service is achieved by Jews blessing the month; they announce when Rosh Chodesh will be, they say, “May the Holy One, blessed be He, renew it ...,” and they conclude “let us say, Amen,” which indicates they pronounce the truth of what has just been said.
2. All is not clear, however. We have said that Jews, by announcing when Rosh Chodesh will be, participate in blessing the month. But the calendar was arranged and fixed many, many years ago, by Hillel. What, then, is achieved today by a Jew announcing when Rosh Chodesh will be? Even a non-Jew knows when the birth of the new moon will be!
Even more puzzling is that as a preface to blessing the month we say “May He who performed miracles for our fathers ... speedily redeem us....” What have “miracles” to do with blessing the month? Surely the rebirth of the moon every month is the most natural thing in the world!
The perplexity is resolved through the AriZal’s explanation of our sages’ saying that the word “faith” in the verse “He shall be the faith of your times, a stone of salvation, wisdom and knowledge” refers to the “Order of Zeraim (Sowing)” of the six orders of the Mishnah. The AriZal explains that faith refers to sowing, for a Jew “has faith in He who is the Life of the worlds, and sows.
What is the connection between faith and sowing, which is a natural phenomenon? When one sows, one places seed in the ground, there to rot and eventually give forth produce. To a non-Jew, there is nothing strange about intentionally letting seed rot, for since this is the way seed has always given forth produce, he is sure that it will continue to do so. A Jew, however, knows that G-d “renews each day, continuously, the work of creation,” and therefore although in the past sowing seed produced grain, it may not necessarily happen so in the future. It depends upon whether G-d wishes to renew the world at this moment. When, therefore, a Jew sows, he does so because he “has faith in He who is the Life of the worlds.” A Jew knows he must fulfill G-d’s command that “Six days you shall sow your field” — and he therefore sows; that his sowing will produce grain — is a matter of faith. Thus it is precisely in the matter of sowing, which seems to be the most natural thing in the world, that a Jew expresses his faith in G-d.
So too concerning the birth of the moon, in blessing the month. When a Jew announces that Rosh Chodesh will be on such and such a day, he does so not because so is the natural order of things month after month. He knows that nature itself must be continuously renewed by G-d, and therefore the announcement of when Rosh Chodesh will be is because he has faith that G-d will renew the month: He blesses the month because G-d commands him to do so, and says, “May the Holy One, blessed be He. renew it for us... and let us say. Amen.”
Now we can understand why we preface the blessing of the month with the prayer, “May He who performed miracles for our fathers ... speedily redeem us.” A Jew’s conduct transcends nature, for even in something as “natural” as the rebirth of the moon his approach is supernatural. G-d’s conduct to a Jew must correspondingly be supernatural ‘miracles.” “speedily redeem us.”
Furthermore, we pray that “May He who performed miracles for our fathers ... speedily redeem us.” Why do we emphasize “for our fathers?” There are varying degrees of miracles; when a Jew requests a “miracle,” he may receive something that is miraculous only in relation to him, something that transcends his nature. When, however, we ask that “May He who has performed miracles for our fathers,” we are emphasizing that we mean miracles of the highest order — miracles commensurate to “our fathers”‘ status. Because they were on a high level, the miracle will also be on a high level. Indeed, the true meaning of “fathers” is Avraham, Yitzchok and Yaakov, for “The term ‘fathers’ is given only to three.” And they are on the highest of levels, as our sages say, “There were three who G-d gave to taste of the World to Come in this world; they are Avraham, Yitzchok and Yaakov. Avraham: For it is written concerning him, ‘in all things’; Yitzchok: For it is written concerning him, ‘by all things’; Yaakov: For it is written concerning him ‘all things.”‘ Because it is written that the fathers lacked nothing good (they had “all things”), it follows that they also had a taste of the World to Come, for if not, they would have been lacking the most important good of all — the World to Come. We must conclude, then, that the fathers were on the ultimate level — of the World to Come. Thus “miracles” in relation to the “one fathers” must be of the ultimate level.
A Jew can request such a lofty level of miracles for since Avraham, Yitzchok and Yaakov are the “fathers” of every Jew, each Jew inherits their qualities.
We find this concept expressed in Birchas HaMazon, the Blessing after a Meal. At its conclusion we say, “Just as He blessed our fathers, Avraham, Yitzchok and Yaakov, ‘in all things,’ ‘by all things,’ with ‘all things,’ so may He bless all of us ... with a perfect blessing, and let us say Amen.” The reason we can ask G-d for such a lofty blessing is, as noted above, because each Jew is an heir of the fathers, and an heir, even if only a newborn, inherits everything regardless of his personal standing.
Hence, although the fathers received the blessing of “in all things, by all things, with all things” only after many years of service, their heirs, even if only newborns, inherit it all! And just as the lofty nature of the fathers applies to all Jews, so too the miracles performed for them.
However, to be worthy of receiving this highest level of miracles, a Jew’s service must transcend his innate nature, transcending all limits. In other words, although a Jew by his very nature conducts himself in a manner transcending the normal way of things — he has “faith in He who is the Life of the worlds, and sows” — and therefore he deserves that G-d also treat him in a miraculous manner, nevertheless, he must change that very nature itself. For it is not enough to serve G-d because so it is one’s nature to do so; one must strive to reach beyond one’s nature. Tanya explains that in the times when it was usual to learn a concept one hundred times, learning it one hundred and one times is a service infinitely higher, for one has thereby broken out of one’s routine and natural order of doing things. A Jew’s service must transcend all limits.
Such service parallels that of the fathers. Our sages say that “the fathers are the chariot”: Just as a chariot is totally subservient to the charoteer, so the fathers were totally subservient to G-d’s will. This is service of changing one’s nature and routine, service transcending all limits — for one ignores his own self (his nature) and is totally subservient to G-d. And when one’s service is similar to the fathers, transcending all limits, he deserves — because of his service (“his measure”) — reciprocal conduct from G-d, transcending even the innate limits of miracles, similar to the miracles performed “for our fathers.
The above lends understanding to the connection between the two aspects of this Shabbos: that it is Shabbos Mevarchim Iyar and the Shabbos following Pesach. Pesach is the “Season of our Freedom,” which in spiritual terms means freedom from all limitations in service to G-d (Egypt in Hebrew is “Mitzrayim,” which is cognate to “Meitzorim” which means straits and limitations). This includes the limitations of one’s good nature i.e., service should be to change one’s routine and nature, to transcend all limits, similar to the service of the forefathers.
On the Shabbos following Pesach, we bless the following month (Iyar), which, we explained earlier, is the idea of “May He who performed miracles for our fathers ... redeem us.” The connection between the two is clear: After a Jew has performed service in a manner transcending all limits, he may demand of G-d that he be given “miracles” of the highest order.
There is a lesson for actual deed from all of the above. On this Shabbos which follows Pesach and blesses the month of Iyar, each Jew must raise himself to the level where his service transcends all limits. Then he will merit G-d’s blessings in corresponding fashion — blessings in a miraculous manner for all that he needs, and certainly for the most important blessing and miracle of all, the true and complete redemption through our righteous Mashiach.
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3. The above applies to Shabbos Mevarchim Iyar every year. In addition, there are lessons to be derived from the unique nature of this year, beginning with the fact that the parshah read today is parshas Kedoshim. In the words of the Alter Rebbe: A Jew must live with the times, meaning, live according to the lessons derived from the weekly parshah.
The lesson derived from parshas Kedoshim is associated with an aspect of Iyar cited in the writings of the AriZal — that the letters of the word “Iyar” are the beginning letters of the words, “I am the L-rd your healer.” That the concept of “I am the L-rd your healer” is reflected in Iyar is seen in the fact that it is the month when nature is renewed, when trees start blossoming — i.e. the best time for a healthy body. And in Iyar, the health bestowed is not a recovery from sickness, but rather, one does not become ill in the first place. As explicitly recorded in Scripture: “All the diseases which placed on Egypt ... I shall not place upon you [in the first place], for I am the L-rd your healer.”
The healing bestowed by G-d is transmitted to this world via a flesh and blood healer — as Torah directs, “He shall surely cause him to be healed,” on which our sages comment, “Permission is granted to a physician to heal” — meaning, that a physician is given the permission and power that through him, the healing from above should be transmitted to the patient.
Since there are two types of healing performed by G-d:
1) healing the already sick;
2) ensuring that one does not become sick in the first place (that of the month of Iyar) —
it follows that the healing performed by a human physician, who receives his healing powers from above, also possesses these two aspects:
1) healing the already sick through medicines;
2) instructing a person how to live properly and healthily so that he will not become sick.
It thus also follows that the unique distinction of Iyar, which is the concept of “I am the L-rd your healer,” is present also in the healing performed by a human physician.
Because human healing comes from G-d’s power, the physician must bind his healing with G-d. This expresses itself in various aspects.
1) A physician, to heal the sick properly, must make sure that no personal considerations or motives intrude into his duties. And this necessitates a physician requesting from G-d the ability to free himself from such motives (as is mentioned in the physician’s oath). And, of course, the ultimate ideal in such an approach to the medical profession is the knowledge that through healing, a physician is discharging the “mission” entrusted to him by the true Healer.
2) Together with diagnosis and healing of physical ailments, a physician must deal also with spiritual ills. A physician must ensure that a person should act righteously, although the patient is asking for help in his physical ailments only — for spiritual health aids physical health. All doctors agree that physical and spiritual health go together — “a healthy soul in a healthy body.” For example, when a physician tells a patient to avoid certain foods, he must first convince the patient to overcome his desires to eat the food although it is delicious. If the patient does not possess the spiritual strength to overcome his desires, the doctor’s instructions will be useless.
We see, then, that in healing (which is connected to Iyar), a Jew must attach even his physical matters to G-d — both in regard to the fact that human healing comes from G-d, and in regard to the fact that bodily health is connected with spiritual health.
This is the connection between Iyar and parshas Kedoshim. “Kedoshim” (lit: “holy”), Rashi says, means that a Jew should be “separate.” There are two types of “Separation”:
1) To remove oneself entirely from the world;
2) To be separate in a holy manner, in that one is loftier than the world.
These two types are found, for example, in the relationship between Jews and other peoples. The former is expressed in the phrase, “You have chosen us from all the nations,” meaning Jews are totally separate from other peoples. The latter type of separation is described by the phrase, “You have raised us above all tongues” — meaning, Jews are separate in that they are above others.
The difference between the two is that in the former, one is totally removed from the world and everything it contains. In the latter, one engages in worldly matters (for “the world was not created to be desolate”) but simultaneously is above the world, infusing it with sanctity. It is a Jew’s duty to illuminate the whole world with holiness, as the Rambam rules: “Moshe Rabbeinu in the name of G-d commanded to convince all the inhabitants of the world to accept the mitzvos commanded to the Sons of Noach.” That is, a Jew may not shut himself off in his own private little world, but Bust try to influence others to behave righteously and justly.
He must likewise convince other Jews to keep all the mitzvos of the Torah. And, since Torah commands “You shall love your fellow as yourself,” he should not wait until his fellow requests his help, but of his own accord he should go to convinesh; .s follow to observe Torah and mitzvos.
Similarly, in influencing the peoples of the world to observe the Seven Noachide Laws, he should utilize even his business contacts to convince non-Jews to observe the Seven Noachide Laws.
A Jew, however, may wonder: Jews are such a small minority in the world; from where should he get the strength to act in the manner of “Be holy” — to infuse sanctity into the world? The answer is, “Be holy, for I am holy.” Because a Jew walks with G-d’s strength, it is no wonder that he can succeed in introducing sanctity into the whole world.
The connection, then, between parshas Kedoshim and the concept of healing present in the month of Iyar, is that both emphasize the theme that for a Jew, worldly matters are bound up with holiness and G-dliness.
4. Another aspect of today is that it is the twenty-sixth of Nissan, which is the day on which Yehoshua passed away. Before a person passes on, one cannot make a complete accounting of his life’s work, for even if most of his years have passed, he can still repent and change his ways. Only after a person has passed away can one measure and reckon the sum total of his service to G-d.
In our case, Yehoshua was the one who received the Torah from Moshe, and who in turn passed it on to the elders, who in turn passed it on to the prophets, thus perpetuating the chain of tradition for all generations. Although Elazor and Pinchas also received the Torah from Moshe, nevertheless, Yehoshua was special in that he was the main one. In the words of the Rambam (Introduction to Mishneh Torah): “And to Yehoshua, who was the disciple of Moshe Rabbeinu, he (Moshe) passed on the Oral Torah and commanded him about it.”
The sum total of Yehoshua’s work, then, was his devotion to Moshe Rabbeinu — the concept of Torah — and to such an extent that “he did not move from the tent (of Moshe).”
Although Yehoshua was unique in his position of receiving and transmitting the Torah, we can learn from him, for every Jew by nature wants that the Torah be given to him. In the words of Rashi (Devarim 29:3): “On that day when Moshe gave the Sefer Torah to the children of Levi ... all of Israel came before Moshe and they said to him: Moshe Rabbeinu, we too stood at Sinai and received the Torah, and it was given to us. Why then do you give dominion over it to the people of your own tribe?... And Moshe rejoiced over this matter [that the people longed for the Torah].” As a result, Moshe, when he blessed the Jews, prefaced his blessings for each individual tribe with the words: “The Torah that Moshe commanded us is the heritage of the congregation of Yaakov.”
Thus, today, the 26th of Nissan, the day when Yehoshua passed on and the sum total of his work receiving and transmitting the Torah — is present, is an auspicious time for every Jew to increase in receiving the Torah, especially in those aspects specially relevant at this time — service associated with the theme of Iyar and the theme of Kedoshim (as elaborated on earlier). There must also be an increase in all matters of Torah and mitzvos, beginning with the mitzvah campaigns: Love of and unity with Jews, education, Torah, tefillin, mezuzah, tzedakah, house full of Jewish books, Shabbos and Yom-Tov lights, Kashrus, family purity, and unity of Jews through the general Sifrei Torah.
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The Rebbe Shlita here elaborated on his proposal [first given on Acharon Shel Pesach] that every Jew learn Rambam daily. These sichos, (of this Shabbos, together with that of Acharon Shel Pesach and other occasions) have been published in a separate essay, titled “Unity Through Rambam.”
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5. Ch. 19, verses 9-10 of parshas Kedoshim state: “When you reap the harvest of your land, you shall not completely reap the corner of your field, and you shall not gather stalks [that have fallen during] your harvest. You shall not pick the small, incompletely formed bunches of grapes of your vineyard. and you shall not Rather the fallen grapes of your vineyard; you shall leave them for the poor and for the stranger: I am the L-rd your G-d.” Rashi, quoting the words “I am the L-rd your G-d,” comments: “A judge to exact punishment” [As we have previously learned, the Name “G-d” refers to G-d’s attribute of judgment]. Rashi then continues: “And I shall exact from you [punishment] only souls, as it is said, ‘Do not rob the weak,’ etc. ‘for the L-rd will wage their battle.’ etc.”
These verses are talking of the law of “peah,” which is that when reaping a field a corner must be left unharvested, and belongs to the poor; and of the law of “leket,” which is that if one or two ears of grain fall to the ground when harvesting (but not three), they belong to the poor. Likewise, bundles of grapes which are small and incompletely formed (the grapes are not attached to a central stem), or single grapes which fall to the ground during picking, are to be left for the poor. Rashi is saying that although the transgression for which punishment is meted out is theft (robbing the poor and the stranger of their rightful due), G-d will not exact just monetary punishment, but life (“souls”). Rashi cites as proof the text in Mishlei (22:22-23): “Do not rob the weak” etc., “for the L-rd will wage their battle,” etc.
Commentators explain that Rashi’s proof for his statement that the punishment is loss of life stems from the latter part of the above cited verse in Mishlei, which says: “for the L-rd will wage their battle — and He will rob life of those who rob them.” This explanation is very puzzling, however, for if Rashi’s proof that robbery from the poor is punished by loss of life is from the latter part of the verse — “He will rob life of those who rob them” — he should have explicitly quoted that part (and not just alluded to it by writing “etc.”). The part that he does quote — “Do not rob the poor, etc., for the L-rd will wage their battle, etc.” — tells us only that G-d punishes wrongdoing. And this is totally unnecessary for Scripture in many previous verses has explicitly said that one receives reward for a mitzvah and punishment for wrongdoing. Rashi need here only bring proof that “I shall exact from you only souls” and the verses which he cites do not prove that!
Furthermore, in parshas Devarim (1:9), Rashi says: “The judges of this nation are not as the Judges of other nations, for if (the latter) judge, and put to death, and smite, and strangle, and pervert justice, and rob, there is nothing in that; but if I cause money to be paid unjustly, my soul is demanded in return, as it is said, ‘and He sill rob life of those who rob them.”‘ We see that Rashi in parshas Devarim does explicitly quote this part of the verse. Why then doesn’t he do so on our verse?
Had Rashi not quoted it in parshas Devarim, it would be possible to say that Rashi interprets this latter part of the verse in such a way that it cannot be brought as proof that robbing the poor is punishable by death — and therefore Rashi quotes the beginning of the verse only. But since Rashi does bring this latter part of the verse as proof that “if I caused money to be paid unjustly, my soul is demanded in return” — a concept seemingly similar to robbing the poor in our parshah he should also cite it as proof in our parshah.
When we learn the commands in the verses, “When you reap the harvest of your land, you shall not completely reap the corner of your field ... You shall not pick the small, incompletely formed bunches of grapes” — which verses end with the words, “I am the L-rd your G-d,” the question arises as to what is special about these commandments that they need conclude with the words, “I am the L-rd your G-d”? Rashi answers this by commenting, “A judge to exact punishment.” When a person transgresses G-d’s commands and steals from the poor (by not leaving them their rightful due), G-d Himself exacts punishment. G-d acts not as a human judge who only sentences but does not carry out the sentence (which the police do); instead, G-d is “A judge to exact punishment.”
Rashi then continues to say, “I shall exact from you only souls.” From where does Rashi know this? In parshas Vayikra (2:1) Scripture, concerning a meal offering, states: “When a soul brings a meal-offering to the L-rd.” Rashi comments: “[The term] ‘soul’ is not said concerning any voluntary offering except regarding the meal-offering. Who customarily brings a meal-offering? A poor man. The Holy One blessed be He said: ‘I credit him as though he had offered his soul.”‘ From this we see that even a small sum of money is very important to a poor person, to the extent that when he brings a meal-offering, G-d considers it as if he had offered his very soul.
In our case, then, theft of what rightfully belongs to the poor — peah and leket, etc. affects the very soul of the poor person. When a person steals these things from the poor, G-d exacts punishment “measure for measure” — “I shall exact from you only souls.”
But not all is clear: True, a meal-offering by a poor person is considered as if he had offered his very soul. But in our case, we are talking of the theft of something worth less than a meal-offering: “peah” (the corner of the field) has no set size and may be even the tiniest amount, and “leket” (fallen ears of grain) refers to even one ear. Perhaps such a severe punishment as death is not meted out for taking such an insubstantial thing?
Rashi therefore cites the verses from Mishlei as proof that it does apply — “‘Do not rob the weak,’ etc., ‘for the L-rd will wage their battle,’ etc.” The verse “Do not rob the poor” does not refer to a minimum amount that is robbed, thereby indicating that if one steals even the smallest amount from the poor, “the L-rd will wage their battle.” And when G-d Himself intervenes, no further proof is needed what the punishment will be, for Scripture explicitly states (Shmos 22: 21-23): “You shall not mistreat a stranger ... a widow or an orphan ... For if they cry out to Me ... I will kill you with the sword.”
A sharp student can still ask the following question. The above quoted verse in Shmos says that G-d will kill those who mistreat them “if they will cry out to Me.” How does Rashi know in our case that death is meted out to those who rob the poor even if they do not cry out?
Rashi answers this question by adding the word “etc.” when citing the verse “for the L-rd will wage their battle.” He is thereby alluding to the rest of the verse, which states: “and He will rob life of those who rob them” — and there is no mention that this death penalty will be given only if the robbed ones cry out to G-d.
Now we can understand why Rashi in our verse only alludes with the word “etc.” to the latter part of the verse (“and He will rob life of those who rob them”), whereas in parshas Devarim he cites it explicitly. Our passage deals with theft which is committed by not leaving the poor their rightful due; Rashi therefore need not quote the latter part of the verse, for even without it we know that such a person deserves death as the fitting punishment (“measure for measure”) for robbing the poor person of his “soul.” Parshas Devarim, in contrast, talks of a judge who causes “money to be paid unjustly” — unrelated to robbing the poor, and without an explicit proof from a verse we would not know that in such a case the judge’s soul is demanded.
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6. Consonant to the Alter Rebbe’s words in his Siddur that “It is customary to recite one chapter of Pirkei Avos on each Shabbos between Pesach and Shavuos, this Shabbos begins the study of Pirkei Avos. We shall therefore analyze the first mishnah of the first chapter, beginning with the words “Moshe received the Torah from Sinai.”
Why does the mishnah say “Moshe received the Torah from Sinai” and not “Moshe received the Torah from G-d”? Some commentators answer that the mishnah is thereby alluding to a prerequisite for the study of Torah — that a person should be humble and egoless. “Sinai,” the Midrash says, is the “lowest of all mountains,” symbolizing humility. In other words, one must be humble to learn Torah, as stated: “Let my soul be as dust to all; open my heart to Your Torah.”
This explanation is inadequate, however, for there are things beside humility which are important prerequisites for Torah study. For example, understanding and comprehension, as stated: “For it (Torah) is your wisdom and your knowledge.” Likewise, toil in the Torah is important for understanding its concepts. Moreover, these things are seemingly more important than humility, for without understanding, Torah study is totally impossible, and without hard toil, one cannot arrive at the truth (for if one should say “I did not toil and I found — do not believe him!”). Lack of humility, however, does not prevent one from studying Torah; an arrogant person is also obligated to learn Torah, for it is impossible to say that because a person has sinned he should be absolved of the duty to study Torah. Indeed, an arrogant person is one who really needs to study Torah.
Why, then, does the Mishnah first and foremost emphasize humility — “Moshe received the Torah from Sinai”?
The context of the beginning of Pirkei Avos provides the answer. It states: “Moshe received the Torah from Sinai and passed it on ... to the Men of the Great Assembly. They said three things: Be deliberate in judgment; raise up many disciples; and make a fence around the Torah.” We see then that this first mishnah deals with directives to judges — “Be deliberate in judgment,” and to Roshei Yeshivos (Heads of Yeshivos) — “Raise up many disciples.” One cannot be a judge or a Rosh Yeshivah if one does not already have an understanding in Torah; there is thus no necessity to instruct them that a prerequisite for Torah study is comprehension.
The first directive that applies to such people is therefore “Moshe received the Torah from Sinai” — humility. Why? Our sages say, “Who are the kings? The Rabbis.” Torah commands judges, “Do not be afraid of any man,” meaning judges must fearlessly teach the laws of the Torah and ensure that they are obeyed. Because this requires the utmost firmness and strength, they need a special admonishment not to be proud or haughty.
This is what “Moshe received the Torah from Sinai” teaches. It says “from Sinai” and not “at Sinai,” to teach that Moshe derived lessons from Mount Sinai itself. What was that lesson? The Midrash says that G-d chose Mt. Sinai as the mountain upon which to give the Torah for it was “the lowest of all mountains,” meaning it was the most humble. And Mt. Sinai remained humble even after G-d descended upon it and gave the Torah.
Moshe learned to act humbly “from Mt. Sinai.” Even after all his greatness and qualities, Moshe remained humble, “more so than any man on the face of the earth.”
This too is the first directive given to judges and Roshei Yeshivos. While they must be strong and firm regarding Torah and mitzvos, they must simultaneously remain humble, as was “Sinai.” Indeed, it is precisely when a judge is humble, nullifying his ego and self before Torah, that he can be sure that his firmness and his decisions are true to Torah.
These two aspects — firmness and yet humility — apply to the rest of the mishnah’s directives. For example, the directive to “Raise up many disciples.” “Many” implies that no matter what number of disciples a sage or Rosh Yeshivah already has, he should still endeavor to draw more. Adherence to this directive means that if a sage hears about a person who is worthy to be his disciple, he does his utmost to draw the person to him and make him his disciples. This requires firmness and strength.
Simultaneously, the sage must also be humble in acquiring new disciples, for “many disciples” means not just “many” in regard to quantity, but also in quality. A sage must not turn away disciples who are on a low level, but must work with all types (“many” — of all categories and levels). And, of course, to actively seek out inferior grade disciples requires humility on the part of the Rosh Yeshivah.
These two aspects are also present in the future redemption, regarding Mashiach. The Talmud (Sanhedrin 98a) talks of two different ways Mashiach may come: “With the clouds of heaven” or as “a sQor man and riding on a donkey.” This second way is puzzling. The Talmud (Sanhedrin 47b) says that “all the appointed times [for the redemption] have passed and it depends only on repentance.” Since repentance is done “in a moment,” Mashiach should c me immediately, “with the clouds of heaven.” How is it possible that he should arrive as “a poor man and riding on a donkey”?
The explanation is that while Mashiach will certainly come “with the clouds of heaven” — meaning the redemption will be in the loftiest manner — he will feel as “a poor man and riding on a donkey” he will be very humble. That is, he will possess both of the above discussed aspects: firmness and greatness together with humility.
We find the same in the case of Moshe Rabbeinu, the “first redeemer.” When he went to Egypt on G-d’s mission to redeem the Jews, he rode on a donkey — symbolizing humility. And the same idea applies to Mashiach, who is the “last redeemer.”
In man’s service to G-d, the above teaches the following. Our sages say, “Who is a wise man? He who learns from every person.” Every person possesses some trait from which one can learn; one need but be a “wise man” to do so — which involves being humble enough to learn from everyone.
On the other hand, since every person possesses something which he can teach others, he must fulfill the directive to “Raise up many disciples” — to convince his friend to learn what he has to toanh
Thus every Jew possesses the two abovementioned aspects: the humility to be able to learn from every person; and simultaneously, the strength and pride to ‘Raise up many disciples.”